French Connection Terror

By on November 18, 2015

Too close for comfort – Locals report from France following terror attacks

by Donna Reed and Patrick Burns

                           We’re all too familiar with the tragic and deadly terrorist attacks in Paris last Friday.

But, perhaps you don’t know the stories of several locals in France who notified anxious friends and families about their safety through social media Nov. 13.

 Kyle Boulanger, (from left) Jordan Johnson, and Adam Good, took a break from studies at the American Business School had no idea they were on the site of the first of multiple terrorist attacks. The Millersville University students before French-German soccer game at Stade de France. Photos courtesy Kyle Boulanger

Kyle Boulanger, (from left) Jordan Johnson, and Adam Good, took a break from studies at the American Business School had no idea they were on the site of the first of multiple terrorist attacks. The Millersville University students before French-German soccer game at Stade de France.
Photos courtesy Kyle Boulanger

The incomplete list includes Kyle Boulanger, 2013 Cocalico High School grad and Millersville junior; Kayla Heydt, a 2014 Ephrata High School grad studying abroad; Ephrata retirees Joanne and Rick Ressler, who are sailing home from France on a Viking Cruise ship; and the Lititz-based,  four-piece indie rock band The Districts, who actually played in Paris during the Friday-night terrorist attacks.

Life began Friday wonderfully for Boulanger, living the lucky life of a student studying abroad in Paris.

By day’s end, he and three fellow MU junior students were lucky to be alive.

Soccer Game

Boulanger, Adam Good, and Jordan Johnson, took a break from studies at the American Business School in Paris. to enjoy the City of Lights experience.

The trio had no idea they were on the site of the first of multiple terrorist attacks during a French-German soccer game at Stade de France.

At first.

Boulanger struggled initially to figure out what was happening at the sold-out soccer match attended by French President Francois Hollande.

“We entered the stadium looking forward to an exciting game,” said Boulanger. “After getting to our seats…we settled down to watch the game. Approximately 20 minutes into the game, we heard the first explosion.”

Thinking the blast was merely stadium pyrotechnics, the trio watch the game as usual, until “we heard another explosion.”

“When the second explosion went off we were worried this was more than just sound effects, but there was no worry from the crowd so we continued to watch the game,” he said.

Selfie taken in the stadium (from left) Jordan Johnson, Adam Good, and Kyle Boulanger.

Selfie taken in the stadium (from left) Jordan Johnson, Adam Good, and Kyle Boulanger.

That changed at half-time, when the crowd buzzed and “our phones started flooding in with texts and social media alerts” about explosions at the stadium.

“After a few people in our section began to get up and leave, we knew we should follow,” he said.

They posted pictures to friends and family before the game at the stadium on Snapchat.

And thanks to social media, Boulanger’s family and friends’ knew almost immediately that he and his friends were OK.

“They had free Wi-Fi at the stadium so I was able to inform my family that I was safe before I left,” he said.

Normandy

“Saw there are bombings in Paris. Are you guys OK?”

That’s the Facebook message Joanne and Rick Ressler (newly elected Ephrata Borough Council member) received Nov. 13.

Rick Ressler presents a flower in France Nov. 13 at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial..

Rick Ressler presents a flower in France Nov. 13 at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.

The couple that day had visited the original Maj. Richard Winters’ Memorial near the beach in Normandy, France.

And because of social-media communications from Joanne, the couple quickly received this from grandson Tyler: “Hey grandma…I’m glad you guys are safe in France.”

While Paris was the next scheduled stop, cruise officials informed passengers that “Paris was out” at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“Alas that is as close to Louve as I will get,” she wrote.

Joanne said the couple was not worried about traveling abroad and were in Europe in 2003 “when Bush declared war on Iraq.”

“Maybe we were just being naïve,” she said in an email Wednesday.

Rick Ressler at the Maj. Dick Winters memorial in Normandy, France.

Rick Ressler at the Maj. Dick Winters memorial in Normandy, France.

Joanne and Rick marveled at “the definition of freedom,” having witnessed the Normandy landing location where Ephrata-native Dick Winters helped lead the most important World War II Allied victory over Nazi persecution.

She said it was “especially heartwarming to see first-hand how grateful the French people are to the American soldiers who liberated them.”

“It was a sobering day to stand on the same shores that the soldiers landed on and pay our respects to the many who died,” she said. “I am glad the people of Ephrata have honored Dick Winters and his leadership skills.”

Concert

The Districts headed to Paris for shows after flying out of the country following a sold out show at Electric Factory in Philadelphia on Nov. 7

The local band, Rob Grote, Pat Cassidy, Connor Jacobus, and Braden Lawrence, played a show in Paris on the night of the

The Districts, Rob Grote, Pat Cassidy, Connor Jacobus, and Braden Lawrence, played a show in Paris on the night of the attack and assured fans the band was safe, but noted “we need time to simply process and understand” the events that took place.

The Districts, Rob Grote, Pat Cassidy, Connor Jacobus, and Braden Lawrence, played a show in Paris on the night of the attack and assured fans the band was safe, but noted “we need time to simply process and understand” the events that took place.

attack and assured fans the band was safe, but noted “we need time to simply process and understand” the events that took place.

The band had a gig scheduled on Monday in Toulouse, but noted on Facebook that it was canceled.

“We urge you to continue going to shows, continue loving music and living the life you love, appreciating its joys,” the band said. “While any tragedy of this sort is deeply painful, the fact that one of the attacks occurred in a venue, a setting where we spend much of our lives, and to fans just like ours is deeply upsetting

Rome

Kayla Heydt’s mom Betty also posted on Facebook that her daughter was safe in France. Kayla is taking part in an occupational therapy master program that Saint Francis University of Lorretto, Pa. has established.

She is one of 29 St. Francis students at its campus in Albi, France, who were traveling at the time of the attacks, Betty said. The students have a full class schedule like they would on main campus but “also travel to the museums on weekends and they have a winter break for 17 days,” she said.

Kayla Heydt, a 2014 Ephrata High School grad studying abroad in France

Kayla Heydt, a 2014 Ephrata High School grad studying abroad in France

Kayla was in Rome on Friday when ISIS terrorists attacked several locations throughout Paris.

“Kayla was to return to Paris on Saturday… but with the bombing they went back to campus right away.”

The question Betty faced was whether or not to allow her daughter to remain in France with her class – which is in a small town of 42 people located in the French countryside.”

St. Francis has offered students “who do not feel safe or want to come home the option to finish their classes on-line,” she said.

“This is mostly Kayla’s choice,” she said. “As much as we love her and want to protect her, she knows more about what is going on over there and if she feels safe. We briefly talked about it as a family and I don’t think any of us thought it was an option to come home.”

The Toll

In all, according to news sources, three suicide bombers attempted to enter the stadium. All three detonated their explosives outside the stadium between 9:20 and 9:53 p.m. Paris time Friday.

The bombers were killed as was one passerby and several were wounded.

In all, three teams of terrorists staged ISIS-claimed coordinated attacks at six locations throughout Paris late Friday, including a concert hall, the Stade de France and at least two restaurants.

At least 129 people were killed and 352 wounded in the attacks. As of Tuesday afternoon, 99 wounded are reported to be in a very serious condition.

French officials said seven terrorists were killed, one fewer than the number ISIS claimed were involved. A manhunt is on for more suspects.

Post Attack

In the days after the attack, Boulanger said he and his friends see a unnerved but resolute citizenry.

“Tensions are still high and I’m sure people are still a little scared but for the most part people are going about their normal activities just with extra caution,” he said.

French national soccer team player Paul Pogba arrives with his teammates at a hotel in London, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. Three days after being caught up in a synchronized terrorist attack in Paris that resulted in the death of over 120 people, France’s players have travelled to London to play a friendly soccer match against England at Wembley Stadium, where there will be a beefed-up security presence and increased checks outside the ground.

French national soccer team player Paul Pogba arrives with his teammates at a hotel in London, Monday, Nov. 16, 2015. Three days after being caught up in a synchronized terrorist attack in Paris that resulted in the death of over 120 people.

He said the trio did not attend the massive memorial ceremony Sunday night at Notre Dame Cathedral.

“We live 45 minutes away from Notre Dame (walking time) and because of everything that has been going on we didn’t want to make the long walk,” he said.

Somewhat amazingly, Boulanger has not heard anyone in Paris comparing the attacks there to the 9-11 attacks in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania in 2001.

He and his friends are determined to stay in Paris until the end of their semester abroad in December.

“My parents are fine with me staying in Paris as long as things don’t get worse,”he said.

On her way home from France, Joanne Ressler pondered how our conflict with terrorists compares with “all of the lives lost to win the war against Nazism.”

“I wonder if the war on terrorism is going to be any different,” she said. “I am sure Dick Winters would say the fight for freedom was worth it and the fight for freedom must continue and be won.”

Patrick Burns is a social media editor and staff writer for The Ephrata Review. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at pburns.eph@lnpnews.com or at 721-4455.

 

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